I enjoy a good game of Scrabble, whether with a friend or with a fellow enthusiast online. Recently in a really close game, I was able to clinch my victory by strategically placing an “x” to spell “xi,” earning me a final 27 points. Though I’m no expert at Scrabble, I’ve picked up a few strategies that apply to the business intelligence world:
1) Planning matters.
Scrabble is all about planning and strategy. You may have a great word lined up on your rack but you can’t just play it anywhere. You need to plan ahead, consider your opponent’s next move and the remaining open spaces on the board. Similarly, your business needs to plan ahead and BI software facilitates that planning. Just like you lay out your Scrabble tiles over and over to plan for maximum word score, budgeting & planning software allows finance teams to perform monthly re-forecasting and rolling forecasts that help your business adjust to changing market conditions. The automation built into BI software makes it possible to be more forward-thinking since there’s more time for analysis and less manual data entry and consolidation.
2) Analyze the changing environment.
So you’ve just made your move and now you have to refresh your rack with new letters. The board has changed and so have your options. In Scrabble, your playing environment constantly changes just like in the real world. How quickly can your business react to market changes? BI software like arcplan enables what-if, best case and worst case scenario planning, which are critical to an enterprise’s long-term stability and growth. What about trend spotting? Maybe you notice your opponent tending to place 4-letter words, allowing you to somewhat anticipate his or her next move. Spotting and reacting to trends is crucial for businesses that want to compete. Do you have an analytic tool in place that allows you to visually spot patterns, analyze data on the fly for underlying causes, and make decisions that will move your company in the right direction? When businesses first get to know arcplan, the application we show them is a dashboard app that features an ad-hoc component. This app allows users to explore the patterns they see on their dashboard in greater detail. Business intelligence provides insight beyond just reporting; it’s the analysis that helps you make sense of the data and get insight that enables better decisions.
Limiting the ad-hoc experience may be best for most business users.
Last time, I wrote about how the concept of self-service is driving ad-hoc adoption and presented the kinds of skills users need in order to effectively take advantage of ad-hoc reporting tools. The conclusion was that even though self-service is great for the power users in your organization, it should not be seen a silver bullet for regular business users. Sure, business users want to be able to answer business questions on the fly, but most ad-hoc reporting tools are going to be too advanced for them. So what can you offer them?
Most people need a guided ad-hoc experience or straight-up guided analytics, i.e. dashboards and scorecards. Guided analytics are suitable for most business users, especially executives and managers, and can contain an ad-hoc component that allows for some on-the-fly report creation. To the right, you can see an example of a dashboard solution whose final tab is ad-hoc.
The other option is to offer “guided ad-hoc” to users, meaning that there is some structure to the process; you have the flexibility to generate your own reports within certain parameters. For example, a guided ad-hoc tool may allow the user to build a report from a list of predetermined columns and rows. This way, the user has a solid foundation for creating their report along with complete flexibility for generating the answers they need.
Whether you choose to implement a guided ad-hoc tool or a guided analytic application with an ad-hoc component, features that are essential include familiar controls like undo and redo buttons. Drill-down, filters, and charts are features users expect. Business users may also want to share reports with their peers or decision-makers, so the ability to create a PDF, export the document to excel, or simply print are useful features as well.
Consider your users before thinking ad-hoc will be your silver bullet.
Ad-hoc reports allow users to manipulate and explore their data and build reports on the fly to answer business questions. If dashboards and static reports answer the question “What is happening at my business?” then ad-hoc answers the question “Why is it happening?” However, ad-hoc is not for everyone. There is a common misconception, often propagated by BI vendors like us, that once users have access to their data, they’ll be able to self-serve and IT will be relieved of the “go fetch” requests for reports. Let’s debunk that myth.
The spectrum of workers in your organization includes people with various responsibilities and skill sets who are equipped with tools specific to their job function in order to get work done. In her 2011 report on Self-Service BI, analyst Cindi Howson illustrates the different segments of BI users and their relation to business query tools.
As you can see, ad-hoc or business query tools only serve a small subset of users: IT developers, analysts & information workers (power users), and some executives & managers. IT developers are building ad-hoc reports for the frequent requests of other user groups. Data analysis experts/power users use ad-hoc query tools most often to support decision-makers who make operational, strategic or tactical decisions. Then you have executives and managers who ideally want interactive dashboards with an ad-hoc component so they can quickly answer questions without needing complex BI tools.
We just created a quick video on arcplan Spotlight, our newest solution for ad-hoc reporting, which I want to share with our readers. Our customers are a mix between those who access static reports and dashboards every day and those who are ad-hoc driven. For the latter, we developed arcplan Spotlight, which enables powerful on-the-fly analysis in any web browser. For the former, arcplan Spotlight is an appropriate next step as user needs evolve since it’s simple enough for non-power-users who want to explore their data without complex BI tools.
arcplan Spotlight goes beyond what most other BI platforms offer, which is simple export to Excel, where the user has to wait for data, write formulas, and then do it all again next week when encountering the same question. arcplan Spotlight allows users to save queries (privately or publicly), export to Excel with a live connection to the data source, export to PDF for sharing query results, customize the look of your query, and undo/redo your last action.
Best of all, it’s free with installations of arcplan Enterprise 7.1, arcplan Edge 2.7.1, and arcplan Engage 1.1 and above.
Have questions? Leave us a comment!
It’s time to introduce you to another one of our customers’ best practice BI solutions, created of course with arcplan software. Today we’re putting the spotlight on Hailo-Werk, a leading manufacturer or ladders, safety equipment and waste bins that are sold in more than 60 countries around the world to DIY enthusiasts and trade professionals.
What is Hailo doing with arcplan Enterprise that makes their solution one to emulate?
1) Employees have access to company data through a web browser – making it widely available without the need to have specific software installed.
Hailo’s employees in virtually every department, including management, controlling, sales and marketing, have access to the data that helps them make better decisions. Deploying their arcplan solution in a web browser makes it possible for the team to have unprecedented access to information whenever they need it. And it allows the company to easily deploy their arcplan applications on mobile devices in the future.
2) Ad-hoc reporting is easy enough for employees at all levels to do without IT.
Software that’s easy to use is likely to be more widely adopted than software that’s cumbersome to learn and operate. Hailo’s users need to be able to segment their data from Oracle Essbase and IBM DB2 without heavy programming. arcplan’s Web Pivoting (“ad-hoc reporting in a browser”) is fully drag-and-drop enabled, which makes it appropriate for regular business users who need to create reports on the fly – without help from IT. One popular request from Hailo’s users is how well a particular product is selling in a specific region at any point in time; another is what color product sells best to a specific target group. The answers are easy to find with just a few clicks in arcplan, which pulls together financial and sales information on one screen.
3) Employees use their BI system to auto-generate estimates, saving them time and ensuring price accuracy.
Have you ever met a sales person who enjoys putting together estimates? Hailo employees use arcplan Enterprise to do the heavy lifting for them. The system calculates price suggestions based on customer and product codes. If the user decides to accept the suggested price, the system generates an offer letter with the appropriate pictures in MS Word. This fully automated process brings huge time savings and is a non-traditional use of a BI system, but incredibly valuable to Hailo. The use of their arcplan-enabled estimates has also brought an unexpected benefit – it’s now easy to track planned prices vs. actual costs, ensuring that the company is charging enough to make a profit.
For a more in-depth look at why we think Hailo is a best practice customer, check out this case study [PDF] – no registration required.
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